Spark It or Scrap It: Is Emergen-C a Cold Knockout?

By , Elizabeth Lowry, Staff Writer
Whether it’s the kids waking up with coughs or your co-worker sneezing every five minutes at the desk next to yours, the winter months might have you feeling as though the germ-filled walls are closing in around you with no escape in sight. But wait--is there? What if you could keep that seemingly inevitable cold away away just by opening a little pouch full of powdery goodness, pouring the goodness into water and drinking it down?

Touting 1,000 mg of vitamin C per pouch, Emergen-C promises to deliver a one-two punch to your immune system. But does all that vitamin C really serve up a TKO to the common cold?

What Is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a term used to describe ascorbic acid. The essential nutrient is water-soluble and is found naturally in some foods. Once in our bodies, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant at the cellular level, protecting us from free radicals. It also helps the body make the protein collagen, which helps wounds heal, improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and helps the immune system work to ward off disease in the body.

Ingest too little vitamin C and you could end up with scurvy, while too much could leave you with intestinal discomfort. The recommended dosage of the vitamin is 90 mg for adult men and 75 mg for adult women. Emergen-C delivers more than 10 times the recommended dosage in one packet of powder and, as is common with dietary supplements, it didn't have to pass any safety or efficacy inspections before being sold on your grocer's shelves.

The Verdict

In 2013, the National Center for Biotechnology Information reviewed dozens of studies on using vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. While they didn't discover a magical cure-all, they might have stumbled on a sliver of hope—the use of Vitamin C supplements, when taken continuously or at the onset of a cold, reduces the duration of the cold by 8 percent in adults and 14 percent in children. The authors concluded more research was needed, however.

While there is no solid proof that vitamin-C supplements keep a cold at bay, there are ways to naturally strengthen your body in the war against germs.

To ensure that your immune system is doomsday-prepped during cold and flu season, fuel up with a variety of vitamins and nutrients and wash your hands regularly. Dark green foods such as kale, spinach and citrus fruits fill you up with vitamins A and C. Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in salmon and low-fat dairy, can also help give your system a boost. Regular exercise keeps you healthy and can lessen any severe cold symptoms.

How do you keep colds and flu away? Tell us in the comments.

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JUDY1676 7/23/2021
Thanks Report
BONNIE1552 1/13/2021
Added vitamin D and C tablets to my daily vitamin because of Covid. Report
LUVNMEA4MEA 8/12/2020
Thanks! Report
I was told by my hematologist-oncologist to start taking 1000 mg vitamin C tablets at the beginning of flu & cold season to help boost my compromised immune system due to Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I did get my flu shot and do my best to eat healthy, exercise, and sleep is also very important. I can honestly say the vitamin C taken daily since I work retail has helped keep infections at bay along with the hand washing. Report
IO take vitamin C with my other vitamins and minerals. I get a flu shot every year. Report
Thank you! Report
I know it is used in pretty high doses to treat a lot of illnesses, especially abnormal reactions from the body. Report
At the first sign of a cold, I use zinc lozenges (generic Cold Ease) Report
airborne Report
I drink pomegranate juice the MOMENT I feel one coming on, and it either STOPS it dead (can be a combo of juices such as Ocean Spray Cran-pomegranate) or it greatly reduces it.

I was late this time, and didn't drink any for over 6 hours after I noticed it and oh YEAH I have the cold!! However though I "feel" it in my chest, its not nearly as bad it would of been. WOOHOO to THAT!! Report
I make sure I get a good night's sleep, wash my hands often and well, and eat a balanced diet. I'm extra careful at stores to use a wipe for shopping cart handles. Report
thanks Report
Good information as cold season is approaching! Report
Good info, thanks. Report
Great information! Report
Good to know! Report
Good info to know. Thanks. Report
Vitamin C does help with shortening colds and flues, used it when I was getting sick and it shortened it and I did not feel bad. Report
I can testify from personal experience of myself and my DH that this stuff works. I taught water aerobic classes 6 times a week for almost 4 years. During this time every fall I would drink a glass of this every day until the beginning of May. I never got sick in spite of being in water and out in the cold, and exposed to people who had colds, flu, and other illnesses.
My DH contracted a severe case of Bronchitis, and HAD to oversee and manage a HUGE project across the country. There was no way of postponing as it had been in the works for over a year. I sent him off with 2 boxes of this stuff and instructions to take 2 times a day - morning and mid-afternoon. In spite of the bronchitis and how bad he felt, he managed to get through 6 12 hour workdays, and at the end of the day went to the hotel and went to bed until the next morning. He tells lots of people about how it got him through that very difficult and demanding week.

It's not just Vitamin C, but some B complex and potassium, and electrolytes as well so a comparison with just plain Vitamin C is like comparing apples to oranges. Report
Did you mention that other Vitamin C & immunity boost companies (Zicam's total immune, Tang's, store brands, etc.) include Ascorbic Acid in their immune boost powders?
I don't know if it's a natural Acid or a GMO/man-made chemical ingredient, in the mixture. Report
I wash my hands and try to eat well and rest and exercise and get enough sleep. And eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I find drinking a lot of water seems to help as well. And get a flu shot! And I like emegenC but I only get it on sale, Otherwise I get Tang crystals. Report
Every fall, for the month of September, I take Echinacea to prepare my immune system. At the start of a cold, I find zinc works better than high doses of Vitamin C, but you have to "zinc-up" at the onset. I also use the hot/cold alternating shower and sauna trick for many illnesses ... works fantastic! My son goes to bed and sleeps and sleeps ... this is what works for him. Regarding Emergen-C ... I find that some of it's other supplements are helpful. Sometimes when sick, your potassium goes low and Emergen-C has a nice amount of potassium ... makes you feel better. Report
Never cared for EmergenC... I'll take a pill but the fizzy stuff, no. Report
It started out with a slight sore throat that progressed to a plugged up nostril (one side only! How weird is that?!) Then I started sneezing and the cough began. This time of year any cough I develop always ends in bronchitis. Well, I went looking for some remedies and I stumbled upon the store brand of "Tussin DM MAX" at Walmart. Not only did it stop the cold dead in its tracks, but the sniffles, sneezing and cough lasted about 1 week instead of 2. And not a single hint of bronchitis. Kroger also carries the same thing, so I think it is just a generic and is probably available just about everywhere. Several others have taken it as well and all but one have had remarkable results. I don't know why it is OTC because it works miracles! Report
I have not had the flu for over 17 years and I work in high profile public job. I have never had a flu shot. Rather I remain healthy with very high quality herbs, also regularly use a netty pot. Last year I got 1 cold, first one in three years, do to ran out of my herbs for a couple weeks. I won't run out again that's for sure!!! I also try to eat organic fresh foods whenever possible. Report
So on average, by taking 10x the daily recommended amount of vitamin c for over a week and exposing yourself to those risks, you can reduce a cold by about 15 hours. That does not seem worth it to me. Report
I agree with handwashing! carrying my paper towel to open the bathroom door - because some don't wash or wash well. clean keyboard periodically. Multivitamin - eating 5-6 fruits and veggies per day Report
I use Airborne whenever I feel a cold coming on and during the cold. don't know if it helps or not but it sure helps me feel better and relieves my symptoms when I take it. Report
I drink Emergen-C year-round and take vitamin C drops whenever I'm traveling by plane. I've noticed a big difference since beginning to do this. Before I would almost always get a cold after traveling. Report
when i feel a cold coming i take a multi vitamin plus vitamin c drink green tea with lemon and ginger and have some chicken soup handy i can't say its a cure but it makes me feel a little better Report
I use Emergen-C but also alternating hot and cold showers. Start with very hot for a couple minutes, cold 1 minute, alternate that 3 times, ending with cold. If I can get to the gym, I use the steam sauna until I'm sweating, cold shower 1 min, back to steam, etc x3, always ending with cold shower. It works for me every time or else my cold only lasts 3-4 days. It boosts immune system. Report
Haven't tried it I take extra dose of Epicor and Echinea and that seems to help Report
I like em. Another teacher introduced me and I always keep some on me. Only the Orange pack though... the rest are nasty. Report
I keep packets of EmergenC in my hiking gear. It's handy on hot, sweaty days (I live in Florida) for the electrolytes. Report
With past experience I really believe Emergen-C helps but only in the very beginning when you feel the cold rear its ugly head. It helps me but I do believe natural foods and whole foods is the better option for health than a supplement. Report
Whenever I feel like I'm getting a cold, I start taking either Emergen-C or Airborne as well as zinc (cold eeze). I also drink even more water and try to get as much rest as possible. So far, despite the fact that my entire family has been sick with colds for the last two months, I have only had a few days of mild sniffles. Of course, I am also careful with hand-washing, eating healthy foods, and working out. So, I say it can't hurt and might help. Report
Another tidbit not included in this article:

Humans do not have the ability to store Vitamin C, as some other creatures do. So it's important to have some daily, so you get what you need.

If it does indeed help the body fight off disease, then it's important to make sure your body gets enough of it when ill (although that would pend more research to confirm the association).

I like Emergen-C zzz packs. They have vitamin C and melatonin. Puts me to sleep in 30 minutes. Report
My mom-who was a nurse in a hospital therefore SURROUNDED by germs, swears by Vitamin C. Whenever she feels like she's getting the sniffles whether it be from a patient or anything else she just takes a killer dose of Vitamin C (she told me up to 10,000 mg, but talk to your own individual provider/mother) and she hasn't had a cold in 15 years now even while working around sick people all day every day. I do the vitamin C sometimes, but I'm lazy and don't remember to take 10,000 mg a day when sick. Earlier this year though my kids brought home sniffles for me from school (you have to love that) and I was taking Vitamin D at the time which is for bone and immune health. I doubled my dose of that (2000 mg a day for me) and I'll be darned if it didn't work. I get bronchitis EVERY year around Christmas and January and I still have not gotten it. Now, of course I'm knocking on wood right now, but it seems to be working well for me! Report
Since I had started exercising I have only gotten 1 cold. That was 2 1/2 years ago! I may have gotten a little sniffle but it went away fast! Love that!
Yes, wash hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds each time. Additionally, several cups of green (or green and white fusion) tea each day seem to confer a certain amount of immunity. My husband (a hand-washer but not a tea drinker) just had a really wretched cold. I seem to have avoided it despite constant exposure....I thank green tea for that! Report
Forget this stuff, take Zicam!
Cuts my colds in half, when I get them. Report
It seems to help me to be honest but maybe this is just me who rarely gets sick in winter anyway. I'll tell you yes or no when I do or don't get sick in spring. Report
I believe Vit C is water soluble vitamin, so you will pass what is not used by your body. I try to go by the eat well, try to get 7-8 hrs of sleep so your body can repair itself. And when I go shopping, I try not to touch my face until I can wash my hands :) Report
Wash your hands, and be sure to clean light switches & door handles and places other people touch. Report